The Plague of Sameness for Sales Effectiveness Firms

The genesis of this paper was the Chairman of the Board for a large training firm asking me “What’s the difference between my firm and <2nd firm we both know>?  I was just reviewing their website and they say the same things we do!?”

These two firms have never competed for business, and in fact, have referred business to each other.  One is considered a Management Consulting firm, while the other is known more as a Sales Training firm.

As the answer to his question was starting to formulate in my mind I realized this question gets to the unspoken truth in the Sales Effectiveness industry – everyone sounds the same!

While this paper was written directly to my friends who own or lead sales consulting and training rims, it will hopefully be valuable to buyers of sales effectiveness services as well.

What follows are thoughts on why firms sound so similar, where there are (or should be) differences and a few starter ideas on what actions they should be taking.  I’ll also take a brief foray to the Bermuda’s Triangle for differentiators.

Here is the full white paper (no email required): White Paper: The Plague of Sameness.

42 Trends and Predictions for 2017

As is wont to happen every new year, our RSS feeds and email newsletter in-boxes are filled with “top trends” from “experts” in numerous fields.  While some of these “trends” are thinly veiled plugs from consultants or trainers who want you to believe that you need exactly what they happen to be selling, that doesn’t mean we have to throw the trendy baby out with the predictive bath waters.

For my friends in the sales effectiveness space, here are some of the trends reported that might be worth a deeper inspection.  For convenience (mine and yours, I hope) I bundled Trends together with some Predictions and expected Top Risks.

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Favorite Reads for Sales Teams: Avoid the “Book of the Month Club” Approach

It’s that time of the year again — Holiday Starbucks cups, panic over Q4 deals to close on 12/31, and finally, lists of books your sales team should read over the holidays (“Top 10  Must Read Books on Sales!”)  This won’t be one of those blog posts.  In fact, I encourage you NOT to push new sales books on your reps over the holidays.

What are the types of reads your sales team would be willing to peruse in their down time that have actual relevance to your business?

Too often, sales leaders fall into the BOMC trap.  Leadership by BOMC (Book of the Month Club) is often counter-productive, because the cool new business book may not align with the overall vision of the sales roadmap.

So what should you ask your sales team to read?  Following the KISS principle (Keep it Simple for the Sellers), here are three ideas to consider:

  • News about their top prospects, clients or partners who are publicly traded firms
:
    • They can focus on one account, or set up a feed for all of their key accounts
    • Here is an example of what they would see if they were just checking out Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM)
  • News about the industries they focus on:
    • It’s easier for sellers to provide insights for their clients if they understand the world they are living in
    • Here is an example of a good news source for those focused on the Pharma space
    • For a broader but narrower look at multiple industries, you can look at the perspectives shared by someone like Strategy&
  • And if you feel you must share some books, I’d encourage you to “go small” and share book reviews or abstracts:
    • Great sources include GetAbstractSoundview Executive Book Summaries, and my new personal favorite to read on my PC, phone and tablet, Blinkist
    • For each book summary shared with the team, be sure to provide clarity on the link between the book and your strategies, goals, or Big Rocks … and clearly describe the actions you want them to take based on the book

Speaking of “going small,” below is a piece that Symmetrics Group published on Top Performers which showcases top sales professionals and the best-in-class qualities that set them apart:

Download Articles on Top Performers in Sales

Respect the time constraints and attention span of your team and select the smaller, high-impact resources that encourage them to step back and learn something new to apply to their jobs.

First published Nov 22, 2016 in the Symmetrics Group Blog

 

Tom Martin

Tom is a member of Symmetrics Group’s Advisory Board, and brings 25 years of experience as a specialized generalist in the sales effectiveness industry, where he is sometimes referred to as “The Consultant to Consultants.” Tom is passionate about KISS (Keep it Simple for the Sellers) and focusing on the reinforcement and sustainment activities that drive sales transformations.

 

Insight-Led Prospecting for BD & Account Management

Originally posted June 5, 2016 as a LinkedIn post.

Insights are everywhere … well the concept of using Insights in your selling certainly is.  Sometimes missed in the discussion is how to go from Data to Knowledge to Insight to Action.  In parallel, sellers are often wishing they had more leads and are floundering trying to create their own.  Enter Insight-Led prospecting.

As I learned from Dave Davies with Force Management (a GrowthPlay company), one key to change is to understand that you need to change your Mindset,Process, Content and Tools in parallel.   Below are some suggestions for doing so to support your Insight-Led Selling efforts.  But first, the answers to a few questions about the post:

What

Researching insights to use in prospecting, opportunity planning & account management

Who

B2B Sellers and the Sales Operations team supporting them

Why

Keeping your competition two steps behind you(1).  You can also better sell value when you understand where your prospects are, and are going.

How

The first key element is shifting your Mindset.  Your mileage may vary, but I consider a good starting point to be:

  • Insights don’t happen without effort
  • I’m in it for the long haul – so I should invest some of my time now to plan the seeds for future insights I can leverage
  • Technology is my friend, but it is always changing so I can’t stand still
  • Sharing lots of articles (data/knowledge) with people is nice to a point – but if I can share Insights I will be remembered more fondly and get more calls back

To support this Mindset there are a number of great Tools.  Here are some I currently use to gather the data I might be able to turn into Insights:

  • Google Alerts: I have alerts set up for key customers and prospects (both company names and key executives). I also set up alerts for key terms (ex “sales transformation”) and update my Alert list each month
  • Seeking Alpha: I set up a “Portfolio” that includes all publicly traded firms that my key clients are pursuing, and get alerts sent each morning, along with information on a few key industries as well as Earnings Call Transcripts recently released
  • Financial Analyst reports: If you have money with an investment advisor check to see if your online account access includes a Research area.  I useMorgan Stanley, and that gives me access to reports from folks like Standard & Poors – in my case I set up a Portfolio list mirroring that in Seeking Alpha
  • Crunchbase: While the last two items help with really large firms, I find Crunchbase to be invaluable for information on firms with private equity or VC money (so this is really useful if your pursue High Tech firms)
  • LinkedIn: Plenty has been written about how you can leverage LinkedIn
  • Twitter: Same with Twitter.  But make sure you set up Lists with key prospects, clients, competitors, and analysts … and make those lists Private so no competitors can snoop
  • Owler: An interesting newer crowd-sourced intelligence approach
  • VB Profiles: Another good one for people pursuing High Tech clients
  • Crain’s and the like: I like the Crain’s Atlanta email for insights on local firms
  • Blogs through an RSS Reader: I personally use Feedly to consolidate all the blogs I want to look at. For example here are the PE/VC blogs I keep up with.  And one of my favorite non-traditional feeds is TBR Newsroom
  • Company Websites: I know you already look at your prospects websites … but if you aren’t reviewing these two pages please start: 1) Careers (to see open jobs and the descriptions for roles like their sellers); 2) Investors (have you ever seen the PPT deck the CEO shared with Investors for an earnings call? … great intel here!)
  • Company-supplied tools: Maybe you are lucky and your firm pays for someone like FirstRain. Leverage what you are given!

All of these Tools can seem overwhelming, so the key is to have a user-friendly Process and cadence to working with them.  A good starting point might be:

  • Daily
    • Sign up to receive daily email alerts for items you can’t have sent to your RSS Reader. Skim quickly for anything useful
    • Quick browse of your blogs and other news feeds (Apple News, Medium, etc.)
  • Weekly
    • Deeper reading of useful blogs and skimming your Twitter Lists and portfolios in SeekingAlpha, etc.
  • Monthly
    • Quick skim of your Tools (data sources), and Add/Change/Delete as needed
    • And maybe even write a LinkedIn Post occasionally on insights you find

And of course, you should set a general time limit based on your situation – ie if you are in heavy prospecting mode or new in a role you’ll spend more time on these.  If you are a Key Account Manager you might spend a medium amount of time, but restrict your Tools to focus on your small portfolio of accounts and the industries they are in.

And last, but certainly not least, is the Content portion.  Using your newfound Mindset, Tools, and Process should provide you with a lot of Content – potential Insights.   Here are a few ideas to kickstart your heart(2) in pursuit of insights that are valuable enough to share and build your credibility:

  • Big announcements in your client’s biggest clients … I recently saw a post about a new partnership for a key clients’ client. I was able to suggest it created a valid business reason for the seller to try getting a new referral from that client
  • A new round of funding for a prospect who had been complaining about lack of budget for a new project
  • Earnings call transcripts where the CEO spells out key initiatives to investors, along with some of the key metrics he will be discussing in future quarters. I bet 95% of the managers in publicly held firms don’t listen to their own quarterly investor calls so with a little work you can provide insights into what they should be considering when making buying decisions

Given all this, I suggest you start small … take 5 minutes right now to consider your own Insights focused Mindset and a few of the tools you might leverage.

Great sellers use different tools – please share your thoughts on other great Tools, Processes, Mindset or Content that others might find valuable.

Happy prospecting,

Tom

PS For my prior readers, you know I like to mix rock and work (hence I Wanna Wrok), so the footnotes today are about a few songs that came to mind while writing

(1) Two Steps Behind, a fine song by Def Leppard.  Little known fact – they played this with Taylor Swift on CMT Crossroads

(2) Kickstart My Heart by Mötley Crüe.  Keeping the country theme – this song was covered  by Rascal Flatts

4 Ways to Cut Cost of Sales (Without Cutting Heads)

Originally Posted in 2016 on the Symmetrics Group blog.

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Like many business projects, sales effectiveness projects are often focused on the big 3 – Increasing revenue, cutting costs and/or reducing risks.

When we talk to sales leaders, the primary stated business objectives of sales transformation projects usually tie back to increasing revenue – capturing new accounts, improving up-sell and cross-sell, increasing renewal rates, increasing revenue per seller productivity.  Reducing cost of sales (COS) could also be, and should also be, considered when establishing the metrics of success in new sales effectiveness initiatives.

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Change Management: Leveraging Rational Thinking

Originally posted July 5, 2015 as a LinkedIn post.

I read a recent article that struck me as a great guide for consideration when thinking about implementing any business change initiative, and especially sales training/effectiveness initiatives.

The article “A User’s Guide to Rational Thinking” by Christie Aschwanden (@cragcrest) was in the July/August 2015 issue of Discover Magazine.   Yes, a science magazine had great ideas applicable to business!

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Coaching Sales Reps on Selling Skills

While diamonds are forever, not all internet sites are … below is a copy of a guest post I did that could be found at the Flannery Sales blog, originally posted in July 2015.

What is the best approach to coaching sales reps to improve their selling skills?  Why of course the answer is … it depends!

To help guide better managers on how to coach their teams I’ll spell out a few points to consider and include a simple framework that can be adapted for use in many situations.

Similar to a sales conversation, it is always a good idea to understand the current environment,  the problems caused by it, and your desired future state.  Following are some items to consider.

What style learners do you have?  The generation of the seller (GenX, Milennial, etc) is often used as a proxy for guidance. Some members of your team will learn best by doing role plays, others will need to receive “just in time” coaching in the field, immediately following a sales call.

As I have heard John Flannery say in a workshop, “People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover.”   Similar to client conversations, coaching conversations are usually best when they include great questions to help a seller understand where they need to change their behaviors.

Microlearning is a popular topic in the Training & Development world.  Selling skills can’t typically be trained and coached in a single interaction. Instead, consider how you can provide snippets of coaching to help your sellers learn.  Include some topics in a weekly team call; send weekly tips that reinforce concepts learned in the last live training session; etc.

Coach to what is most important to your company.  Consider the overall business objectives or key initiatives for the company to guide your coaching.  Is “decreasing ramp time of new hires” a top 3 item?  If so focus your new hire coaching on the specific skills and behaviors needed to be productive members of your sales society.

These ideas, and the hundreds of others that can help, can get overwhelming and lead to Random Acts of Coaching.  To help drive some order out of the chaos the best approach is typically to follow a coaching system that can help organize your thoughts. Find a system that works for you and violently implement it!

Here are some key elements in a relatively simple system that I use:

  • Behaviors
  • Model
  • Approach
  • Cadence

Behaviors: Focus your coaching on the behaviors that support the Skills you want to put in place.   For example “asking great discovery questions” is a behavior that supports selling skills like prospecting, negotiating, and closing.

Model: When coaching behaviors consider the matrix of whether they are capable of doing it, and do they want to.  Sometimes called Commitment & Competence, or often Skill & Will in coaching parlance.

Approach:  Screaming at the scoreboard doesn’t yield great results.  Instead you should ask people how they think they should be doing things, potentially show them a better way, observe them trying to do it, and then give them feedback (Ask-Show-Observe-Feedback).

Cadence: With so many tasks to focus on, the best coaches have a regular rhythm around what and when they will be coaching (and doing the rest of their management duties).

For additional insights on coaching be sure to read other posts by Flannery Sales Systems like Are You a Great Sales Coach?

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